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Smartphones and smarter phoners PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Friday, 14 September 2012 06:44

The editorial was first published in Bdaily - the UK business news network.

 Q: How smart is a smartphone without WiFi?

A: Not very - and not so very good for mobile networks.

Head of CommunicationsMobile Operators - upset by delays to spectrum licensing and yet courting further delays by challenging one (or two) of their brethren - are increasingly looking to Public WiFi to alleviate their data traffic cellular congestion.

But they also know that 'cellular network avoidance' - offloading the traffic at the point nearest its origination and receipt - is teaching smartphone users the benefits of bypass.

From inception Mobile Operators have clamoured to hitch their services to the latest and smartest 'phones'.  But public perceptions are sliding.  Getting connected and using Content (the services) are drifting apart now that smartphones have become multi-purpose remote controls for the digital economy.

The odd thing about mobile phone users is that they are not so very mobile (less than 5% of calls are made on the move) and increasingly they do not make so many old-style phone calls – smartphones have overtaken Feature Phones and data demand is the dominant driver.  If speech is essential the modern mobile user will tend towards packetised data calls via services like Skype.

Part of the appeal of 4G for operators is that they might at last be able to start hanging up on the legacy of last generation telephony.  But that will not be before Operators can bid for and 'win' the spectrum and then build tens of thousands of new smaller base stations - each of which will need connecting back into 'their' Internets.

So meanwhile they are motivated to maintain users' conceptual associations between smartphones and mobile networks for long enough for their networks to once again become fit-for-purpose.

Despite the regulatory passion for connectivity competition, they must increasingly wonder why they don't invest collaboratively, share fewer networks and avoid installing umpteen duplicate base stations.  So far their thinking has progressed little further than mast sharing and power supplies but little else – except of course in the case of ‘mobile virtual networks’ which sort of proves that technically the wholesale approach is feasible.

Small wonder then that Operators are looking for opportunities to hitch their services to wider-area WiFi - the latest example being the compact of convenience between O2 and Westminster City Council.

But Joni was so right.  Smartphone users really don't know what they've got 'till it's gone.  Spending just a few days away from WiFi connectivity and with only the flakiness and inconsistency of 2.5 or 3G, sends both urban and rural smartphone users to the back of the class.

Property facility managers are also on the slide.  They need to accommodate the needs of people in their places - whether that is a shopping centre, hotel, car park or hospital.  Their journey, via umpteen schemes to make money out of connectivity, has shifted from perceptions of cost to those of value - and en route has tested the tolerance of customers.

As smartphones and their users get smarter and their needs to access applications 'in the cloud' become ever more sophisticated they are showing everyone how, in the digital economy, public perceptions are sliding in all directions – not, perhaps, the apocalyptic future as seen by Leonard Cohen but certainly a tortuous challenge for mobile network operators. 

  • Will smarter phoners hang up forever on Mobile Operators?
  • Will smartphone designers make WiFi-only devices?
  • Will Operators find a way of minimising 4G investments in spectrum and connectivity infrastructure?
  • Will there be local fibre to enough premises to connect all those new base stations?
  • Will Mobile Operators, looking for better ways to spend your donations, become the new investment champions of fibre to the home?

These issues will surface at NextGen 12 when the Mobile Operators Association goes head to head with Rethink Wireless.

With the conference hosted by Westminster CC the crucial role of Local Government will be of interest to all engaged in developing 'future cities' to serve the digital economy.

If the UK Government has any policy desire other than providing playing fields for Operators' games - policies aimed at growing the digital economy, reducing the digital deficit, connecting the whole country and delivering better value public services - this might just be the right time to tell citizens and the regulator and investors.


This editorial was written for members of the Communications Management Association (CMA) - a part of the BCS, the UK's chartered society for ICT professionals.

NextGen12 is a two-day conference on 8th & 9th October in Church House, Westminster.  The event brings together policy developers, network operators, local government and community leaders and all those engaged in developing the UK's essential digital infrastructure. Delegate Registration and full agenda now available.

Last Updated on Friday, 14 September 2012 07:22

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